It had been niggling away at me for some time. And then I was prompted again after the airbag problem was covered on local TV. Last Thursday was the day that I was finally going to do something about it.
So, I picked up the phone and dialled Honda. I read out the registration number of my car, and before long learnt that our Accord Euro is one of the over 40 million vehicles worldwide that has one of the airbag inflators that are being recalled for replacement.
Curious to know why the Honda website didn’t mention any models after 2009, she said “we have just received this latest update that includes the passenger airbag inflator for your 2011 model”
“When can I have it replaced?’, I asked.
“We can do this tomorrow at 1pm. It would take about an hour” she said.
“Let’s do it” I replied. “What about the other airbags? Do they also use the same inflators”?
“We have no information on those at this time”, she replied.
“OK. I’ll see you tomorrow” I said.
Now that I have my passenger inflator replaced but being unsure about the remaining airbags, I decided to explore this airbag problem further. The so-called airbag problem involves ‘defective inflator and propellant devices that may deploy improperly in the event of a crash’ when they shoot metal fragments typically up to 2cm in size into vehicle occupants. This has caused serious injuries and even deaths.
It turns out that this is not a new problem. It is best described as a ‘slow train wreck’. The automotive industry is just at the beginning with this air bag problem. Initially it involved just six vehicle models when first announced in April 2013. It has now expanded to include over 41 million vehicles and involve manufacturers including BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Honda/Accura, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru and Toyota/Lexus.
The faulty airbags are manufactured by Takata Corporation. Takata is listed as a leading global innovator and supplier of automotive safety systems, including airbag systems, seat belts, steering wheels, electronics, sensors, and child restraint systems. They supply all major automotive manufacturers in the world. Headquartered in Tokyo, Japan, they operate 58 facilities in 21 countries and have almost 50,000 employees worldwide. The defective airbags all use inflators that come from their Monclova plant in Mexico. Takata first said that ‘propellant chemicals were mishandled and improperly stored during assembly’, which supposedly caused the metal airbag inflators to burst open due to excessive pressure inside. It has been speculated that the quality problems also ‘relate to rust and bad welds’, causing defect rates ‘six to eight times above'” acceptable limits.
Takata states on their website;
‘We are dedicated to protecting human life. We began by developing seat belts utilizing the technology found in parachutes. Since then, we continue to develop the newest safety technology and make it available globally. This has been our objective since the beginning and we will remain committed to it. Our dream is to reduce the number of fatalities of traffic accidents to zero.’
It is difficult to see how this statement aligns with the quality problems that must have been known about at the Monclova plant. Takata has admitted that it does not have adequate records to determine which airbags contain defective inflators. This leaves it with no alternative but to recall all vehicles likely to be affected for replacement. As a result, we will likely see more models added to the list of those already lined up for air bag inflator replacement.
On 24 September 2016, the driver’s airbag inflator ruptured in a crash which resulted in the fourth Malaysian death this year. The Honda vehicle involved in this crash was included in a Malaysian Product Recall announced on July 10, 2015, that required replacement of the Takata driver’s front airbag inflator. A notification letter was sent out to the owner but the recall repair was never undertaken. Honda reported that just 54% front-airbag inflators under the current recall in Malaysia have been replaced.
Clearly there are many lessons to learn from what is turning out to be the largest recall the automotive industry has ever seen. Some of the questions I have are;
Often forgotten about is that a successful product recall involves in this case Takata (as component supplier), the vehicle manufacturer, the dealer, and also the owner. Issuing recall notices to owners needs to be balanced with the availability of replacement parts. For example, on 20 October 2016 Toyota advised its US dealers to disable the airbags and affix “Do Not Sit Here” messages to the dashboard where they have no replacement part available.
We are now three years into the ‘airbag problem’ where the models involved, and the manufacturers issuing recalls are still being added to a growing list of affected vehicles. Until there is a definitive list the size of this problem will not be known. Then all those vehicles on the list need to have their inflators inspected and/or replaced. This problem has a long time to run yet – at least a decade and probably more.
A huge amount of damage has been done to the automotive industry and our faith in it has taken a huge hit. It is not until the unthinkable happens that systems are tested and we learn. I just hope that the learning happens quickly, and the Takata airbag problem is addressed speedily to avoid any more human suffering.
Note: Google chrome users will need to install the RSS extension
Michael posts on topics relating to organisational growth and excellence
Sign up below to receive my future posts and offers